Among the western plains of Siberia is the thriving city of Barnaul, Russia. Situated close to the border of Kazakhstan, the city is an industrial, cultural and educational center home to the prestigious Altai State Pedagogical University. This semester, Sarah Cavanaugh ’20, Alexandra Curtis ’20, Piper Delo ’20 and Kaitlyn Marshall ’20 are studying abroad in the city, as they develop advanced Russian language speaking skills and immerse themselves in the traditions of the region.
“As a Russian and political science major, it was essential for me to be in a place where there would be close to no English spoken,” says Delo. Through the program, students take an upper level language seminar taught entirely in Russian, as well as perfect their language speaking skills through daily interactions with their peers and people from Barnaul.
Through the Colleges’ No. 1 ranked study abroad program in the country, the students also study Russian history, intercultural communication and participate in a service-learning placement that has integrated each student into the fabric of the Barnaul community.
Delo, an avid figure skater at home, teaches skating to elementary school students and young adults. “Being able to offer them coaching and knowing I am making an impact in their lives has meant a lot to me,” she says.
Meanwhile, Curtis is teaching English to elementary and middle school students. The experience will be applied toward her Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification offered by the HWS Education Department. Living with a host family, Curtis says, has also been invaluable in immersing her in the language and cultural practices.
Cavanaugh, a double major in dance and Russian area studies, is practicing folk dancing with a local troupe. Having interned at the Boston Ballet School over the summer, Cavanaugh views her semester abroad as an opportunity to expand her knowledge of dance styles and forms, especially by observing Russian ballet. During a day trip, Cavanaugh visited the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, one of the most important cultural centers in Siberia, to enjoy a performance of the ballet Cinderella.
The William Smith students have also traveled through the Siberian countryside. By van, the group drove deep into the Altai Mountains, where Marshall says, “the views were absolutely breathtaking.” They shared traditional meals with local populations, participated in a traditional throat singing event, as well as visited a Siberian husky and reindeer farm.